Bertrand de Billy
Cor i Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona
6/14 June 2004
Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedJohn Treleaven
BrünnhildeDeborah Polaski
GuntherFalk Struckmann
GutruneElisabete Matos
AlberichGünter von Kannen
HagenMatti Salminen
WaltrauteJulia Juon
WoglindeCristina Obregón
WellgundeMaria Rodríguez
FloßhildeFrancisca Beaumont
1. NornJulia Juon
2. NornLeandra Overmann
3. NornElisabete Matos
Stage directorHarry Kupfer
Set designerHans Schavernoch
TV directorToni Bargalló
Musicweb-International.com (I)

Although recorded in Barcelona, this production by Harry Kupfer was originally seen at the Deutsche Staatsoper Unter Den Linden (Berlin). Magnificently dark and disturbing, the experience Kupfer creates is long-lasting and thought-provoking. I enjoyed the Siegfried of this Ring (not reviewed by me), but this final instalment is awe-inspiring.

The same cannot be said uniformly of the orchestral contribution. In particular the violins have some decidedly ropy moments when challenged to perform in unison at speed that can be distracting. Bertrand de Billy is a good – not great – Wagner conductor. Although there is some give and take, the sense of flow is not always maintained; a direct result of his attention to local detail taking precedence over the more large-scale vision so necessary in successful Wagner interpretation.

Things do not get off to the best of starts. The curtain rises during the very first chords – while we the viewers are still getting the credits overlaid! The stage sets the scene for the tenor of the production. A mesh background of light rises from behind as we enter Wagner’s primeval world, here with a green backdrop that could easily come from the film series, ‘The Matrix’. The vocally well-matched Norns spin their ‘rope’, here an electric, luminous cable as they distance the listener from the story by the act of their retelling. Billy shows his grasp of local colour well, in that the orchestra is dark and details telling – try the stopped horn ‘flecking’ the overall warm sound, for example.

For Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, the camera dwells on a night scene – still with the mesh/net segmenting the sky. This mesh is replaced by something that is strongly reminiscent of Chéreau (a generator of some sort?) as Siegfried and Brünnhilde, enclosed in a box, rejoice in their love. Polaski is of course a hugely experienced Wagnerienne and exudes confidence. Her Siegfried (John Treleaven) is lusty of voice and as a character is clearly someone who follows the emotions of the moment. Hero he may be, over-intellectually endowed he is not. The ring he gives her is huge, more of an amulet. Emotions are at a height here and it is incumbent on the orchestra to match them. Alas this orchestra cannot, quite, as it resides in the upper second class of pit orchestras. A shame really as vocally the scene climaxes naturally and impressively – Polaski’s final high C is a real peach!

Throughout the music-drama, dark shades predominate. No surprise that much feels oppressive, although that is not necessarily a negative comment. Rather one is thrown into a world that, while clearly related in some respects to our own, resides in a distinctly parallel universe. It is here that Kupfer’s triumph lies, in his transportation of the listener/viewer to a world that becomes eminently believable, even disturbingly familiar. Perhaps one of his aims was to appeal to the side of all of us that dwells in the world of dreams, wherein colours can be bright and heightened in vibrancy; the treatment of colours is masterly throughout.

The contrast between the dark (dark blue) of the set of Act 1 Scene 1 (in the Hall of the Gibichungs) and the brightly-lit evening dress of Gunter and Gutrune is marked, themselves contrasting with the black leather of Hagen. This scene triumphs because of the excellence of the participants. Salminen, whose DVD Gurnemanz was so strong for Nagano (see review) is no less impressive here. Struckmann is fully inside his part, yet it is Elisabete Matos’s Gutrune that really impresses. Throughout this scene Billy keeps up the momentum, which is clearly his interpretative priority – providing plenty of orchestral impetus at the climactic ‘Blutbruderschaft’ passage. To his credit he gives his Hagen plenty of space for Hagen’s Watch. Salminen here is gripping and authoritative.

Of all of the Prologue and Act 1, it is the scene between Brünnhilde and Waltraute that opens Scene 2 of Act 1 proper that really impresses. There is a truly intense interaction here, and Waltraute’s Narration is superbly despatched by Julia Juon.

Alberich and Hagen’s scene that opens Act 2 is spell-binding. The setting remains indebted to industry-scape, with a cache of satellite receivers present. Black again predominates – Hagen remains all in black too. Alberich (von Kannen) is the embodiment of evil, Treleaven’s Siegfried the ‘innocent’ (in the Parsifal sense) hero.

Act 2 however is dominated by Polaski’s simply magnificent Brünnhilde, awe-inspiring as she heaps curses on Siegfried, unbelievable touching when left alone on stage, believably furious yet imperious after Siegfried’s death.

Elemental videos of clouds and sky and a group of wild hunting horns introduce Act 3. The Norns emerge from panels in a slanting slope, working excellently together. They are effectively corpses that sing – a shame the strings’ evident strain with faster passages again detracts – lack of both agility and tone is the problem here. As the Norns deliberate on karma as they prophesy, they group in one place, with Siegfried diagonally opposite.

Treleaven excels in these final stages of his part, telling his stories well, his voice marked by its freedom, his death all the more touching for his believability. Salminen’s cries in Scene 2 are magnificently imposing.

For the final stages of the cycle, Siegfried is laid on a plinth with steps up to it. Polaski’s responsibility of course is to create the climax of the entire work – by ‘work’ I refer of course to the entire tetralogy. She has huge amounts of strength in reserve. What a shame – the recurring refrain of this review – that the orchestra cannot match her intensity, its contribution marked by literal, uninvolved playing. Perhaps the climax of this Immolation is her rapt singing of ‘Ruhe, O Gott’, marked by an involving devotion.

This is in many respects a superb Götterdämmerung. The acid test is that one should emerge exhausted from Wagner’s emotional outpourings, yet uplifted. This de Billy and his team of soloists do in the final analysis achieve. A better orchestra would have clinched it, but bear in mind that the thought-provoking production is at times a visual feast, at times deeply disturbing.

Colin Clarke | 5 September 2005

Musicweb-International.com (II)

Götterdämmerung is perhaps Wagner’s darkest vision and it was with high hopes that I looked forward to what a good director and cast would make of it. Kupfer’s production of Das Rheingold held high promise, for it was full of insight into the undercurrents of the great saga, and illuminated the drama intelligently.

Here we have an exceptional performance from Matti Salminen as Hagen. He is so good that, frankly, he steals the show. It is valid to see an interpretation that emphasises Hagen’s role, for he is the culmination of Alberich’s ambition. In Götterdämmerung he is the agent who causes the downfall of the Gods. Siegfried is fearless, but also a fool, easily outwitted. It is Brünnhilde who is the true hero, for it is she who understands that the Ring must be renounced and returned whence it came. Götterdämmerung is the culmination of the whole struggle between greed and altruism, and it’s perfectly reasonable to see this stage of the drama as a struggle between Hagen and Brünnhilde for what they represent. Thus the dominance of Salminen has artistic as well as interpretative purpose.

In Kupfer’s original Berlin production, Hagen was performed by no less than John Tomlinson. I did not see that, but can imagine that Tomlinson, like Salminen, would have been just as authoritative, so it’s possible that in casting for Barcelona, Kupfer was thinking along the lines of a Hagen with depth, a fully realised character of immense force, not merely an Alberich revived. Indeed, Salminen is so good that he captures the human side of the role, and the “courage” he learned from his mother. There is a vulnerable side to this Hagen, who knows that his parentage has cursed him to be isolated. It makes him a tragic figure, a victim as well as an agent of evil. In this production he spends a lot of time sitting alone on a platform, from which he can observe all but not be part of it. He tries to ignore Alberich when the old man comes shuffling, almost broken to haunt his dreams. Alberich has to remind Hagen to “hate the happy”, as if he knows that Hagen needs to be pushed. Salminen in every nuance, with every movement, plays the role with dignity and depth. At the end, while Brünnhilde sings, the camera catches Hagen several times, always looking subdued and thoughtful. He shouts “The Ring is mine” without conviction, as he jumps into the Rhine, and, perhaps, redemption.

In this production, Brünnhilde literally wears the trousers. Even her tunic resembles the Gibichung’s coats: all of them are thinking adults, Siegfried here is the real alien. Deborah Polaski’s voice is not among my favourites, but here she plays the role with a sort of androgynous power which goes some way towards balancing Salminen. It is a long and demanding role, which she carries off, if in a fairly straightforward way. Elisabeta Matos’s Gutrune was something of a surprise. She was convincing as a glamour queen but developed her role superbly as the horror of the trick played on Siegfried dawned on her. Her whole appearance transformed, and her singing took on a more mature, harrowing tone. While hers is a minor role, it is a complement to Brünnhilde’s, for she too understands that wrongs should be righted.

Falk Struckmann was barely recognisable as a greasy lounge lizard Gunther, but he sang well. As he comforted the dying Siegfried, he acted well, too, showing real humanity and tenderness. John Treleaven’s Siegfried perhaps didn’t deserve it. He sang in an uncomfortably high register, with predictable results. The shrillness and lack of colour might have been forgivable. But whoever convinced him to overact? He rolls his eyes and grimaces ludicrously. Yes, Siegfried gets intoxicated by the potion, but he doesn’t need to loll about like a comic-book drunk. He may be an innocent fool, but he should at least awaken a modicum of sympathy. The magic that made this butch Brünnhilde fall for him must have been powerful indeed.

In the first act, I was disappointed by the orchestra, playing with insufficient focus. Leitmotivs are there for a purpose, and they need to be clear enough especially against powerful expressive singing like Salminen’s. Fortunately, as the opera progressed, they seemed to pull together better. All stops were pulled out for the magnificent final scene. Perhaps it was the magnificent staging, for the grid background that stood for the Rhine, the Rainbow Bridge and more in Das Rheingold, exploded into an orgy of “fire” effects. As if to acknowledge the return of “nature” from the sterility of technology, what appeared to be real flames leapt up. The choir effectively added to the sense of chaos by wandering like escapees from a fire bomb, their hands above their heads in supplication. The orchestra finally ignited musically, too, in wildly dramatic finale, all the more spectacular for being so dark and devoid of colour.

Anne Ozorio | 5 August 2005

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Opus Arte
Technical Specifications
720×480, 2.1 Mbit/s, 5.0 GByte (MPEG-4)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.